An Alarming Digital Theft

We live in an age of digital theft, though not the kind you think of.  The real digital theft is committed mostly by companies like Google and Meta that steal your data and then resell it back to you in the form of advertising.

But some digital theft feels more like highway robbery, as in this story in the Times about some humble folk artists who were robbed of the ownership of their own original songs.

No one should be surprised that there is theft, even of intellectual property.  What is disconcerting is how difficult it is to reclaim ownership of the stolen property.  Our “system” of publication and distribution of intellectual property is clumsy and defective.

But I believe the genie is out of the bottle on this issue.


Confusing the Men

A New York Times article by Vanessa Friedman said this:

The clothes were like a dare to the watching world, a refusal to cater to pretty-girls-in-pretty-dresses gender expectations and a good-natured riposte to the idea that provocation is an invitation. An “I see your judgment and raise you one” piece of fashion politics.

The writer is referring to sequence of very revealing outfits worn by actress Kristen Stewart as she toured various events to promote her film “Love Lies Bleeding”.  I find it kind of incoherent.  Do you?  How is a provocative outfit a “riposte” to the idea that “provocation is an invitation”?  What is the “riposte” part?  Is what she is referring actually better known as a tease?

We are told– endlessly, it seems– that the “male gaze” objectifies and dehumanizes women.  Male directors demand that actresses reveal their bodies to gratify fantasies of male sexual desire.  Wolf whistles and leering stares are acts of oppression.  Choosing a new employee based on sexual appeal instead of skill or qualification is very, very wrong.

So what is the meaning of Ms. Friedman celebrating Stewart brazen exhibitionism?  She states:

Ms. Stewart and her stylist, Tara Swennen, have taken the film’s carnality and covert politics and translated them for the promotional panopticon, forcing anybody watching to confront their own preconceptions about women’s bodies, their sexuality and exactly what empowerment means, while at the same time undermining the whole circus of branded celebrity dressing.

Does that actually mean anything, other than, having it both ways?  We can decry the male gaze while manipulating it?  Instead of admitting that some women– at least– cultivate the male gaze and revel in it, and profit from it, and feel exhilarated by the attention, we can twist the logic into a cultural pretzel in which up is down and down is sideways.  Kristen Stewart is getting a kick out of the looks she wants: she is making a political statement.  Don’t you dare believe she enjoys the attention.

If you believe Ms. Friedman.

Or you can believe Stewart gets her kicks.




Divas about Divas

Join us for SIX: The Musical, a 90-minute extravaganza inspired by the queens of pop – Beyoncé, Ariana Grande, Taylor Swift, Nicki Minaj, Cardi B, Jennifer Lopez, and Rihanna.

I don’t think I’ve ever heard a less promising enticement.  I’m impressed though at the remarkable collection of seven of the most inconsequential talents in the pop universe, seven of the singers I would least likely want to hear, all of them making extensive use of Autotune, all of them products, all of them narcissists of the highest order.

On the same day, someone else on Facebook posted a photo of Taylor Swift at some football game with the comment that she did not “ask” to be on TV at the football game.

On the contrary, all she does is “ask” to be on TV.


The Traditional

My response to this column in the NY Times by Ross Douthat.


“a mechanism to constrain sexual misbehavior that’s more effective than the traditional emphasis on monogamy and chastity.” I like how you sneaked in there the phrase “the traditional”, as if this was some kind of monumental edifice of unquestioned provenance. As if it was not a social mechanism for the control of women’s bodies by patriarchal “authority”. A social mechanism inevitably dispensed with for themselves by privileged men in power. Whether you personally or not love Donald Trump, your side owns him and you could not invent a more ragingly hypocritical avatar of “traditional” values.

Tears in the Rain

Rutger Hauer, the great Dutch actor, actually had a hand in writing these lines for the ending of “Blade Runner” (the exquisite original; not the boring remake). He was not satisfied with the script and received permission from Ridley Scott to rewrite his lines for the eponymous dying scene:

I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe
Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion
I watched c- beams glitter in the dark near Tanhauser Gate
All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in the rain

It doesn’t matter much what C-beams are or where the Tanhauser Gate is: the idea is that we should relish and value every spectacular moment of life, of the wonderful, amazing things we see and experience– not because they are forever but precisely because they are ours, and temporary, and will melt away with our memories “like tears in the rain”.

Rutger Hauer died today (2019-07-24) at 75 .

Music Industry Reform

The music industry is structured to rip off artists and fans. It’s time the government legislated minimum standards for all recording contracts specifically to prevent companies from charging artists for ancillary services they are actually providing to themselves, and to guarantee minimum royalties per unit sold regardless of advances. Producers should also be prohibited from seizing co-writing credits for songs they record even if they suggest specific arrangements and instrumentation. And yes, break up the ticket agent monopolies so that venues and artists are free to choose the lowest cost agencies. Every recording on which the singer is auto-tuned (which is almost all of them now) should be labelled as such so we can tell who really is a good singer and who is just processed noise.

And it should be illegal to claim that ABBA was ever really anything more than a banal pop band.

Free Speech at the ACLU

Really, really disappointed to read this account of the ACLU’s firing of an employee for using language that in some subtle way– too subtle for most of us to grasp– implied a racist attitude.

In one instance, according to court documents, she told a Black superior that she was “afraid” to talk with him. In another, she told a manager that their conversation was “chastising.” And in a meeting, she repeated a satirical phrase likening her bosses’ behavior to suffering “beatings.”

There are multitudes of progressive organizations out there ready to attack anyone who dares oppose their advocacy of nothing but rainbows and flowers for those of minority sexual preferences or racial identity.  The ACLU, until now, has been generally willing to fight for everyone’s right to speak truthfully even when expressing unpopular opinions.  But the entire story about the firing of Kate Oh over statements that only in the mysterious realm of paranoid ultra-sensitivity constitute any kind of racial animus is truly discouraging.  It’s not about a weird deviation from their core values.  It’s about the corporate culture at the ACLU becoming mind-numbingly parochial.

One of the things I had always liked about the ACLU– and which I agree with wholeheartedly– is that unpopular speech has a right to be heard.  And then mocked and ridiculed, if necessary, but heard.  And the mockery and ridicule itself must be protected.  When a university bans a speaker because they are not politically congenial with the culture of the administration and faculty, we all lose, even if we hate the speech.  Let them speak.  If they are idiots, we can let them know after we know what they are actually saying.

But– this is important– please take care to note when these speakers are not actually banned (as Anne Coulter claimed to have been from a Canadian University)  but merely playing the martyr for their home-town crowd.  Conservatives seem to adore this trope and play it for all it’s worth in their own media echo-chambers.

I am even opposed to “hate-speech” and “hate-crime” designations.  Either it is a crime or it isn’t.  “Hate” is an entirely subjective pejorative.  Inciting violence is a crime.  Libel is a crime.  Fraud is a crime.  Shouting “fire” in a crowded theatre can be a crime.  But making something a “hate” crime is being a nanny.


Harrison Butker’s Beautiful Nobody Wife

Someone on Facebook posted this, in response to the ridiculous controversy over the speech made by football player Harrison Butker of the Kansas City Chiefs to the graduates of Benedictine College in Atchinson, Kansas.

Oh no, a catholic gave a pro catholic speech with catholic views to catholic students at a catholic school, the horror, the misogyny, the… idiots love to go out of their way to be offended. The same crowd that preaches acceptance cannot stand living in a world where other people aren’t like them apparently

I responded:

Agree. The same way a male state legislator with no medical training or background and expertise in psychology or physiology should not be telling parents what they can or cannot do to address a child’s issues with sexual identity. Nor should the same state politicians be telling libraries what books they can stock on their shelves. Or if people who are fearful of communicable diseases can wear a mask. Or if teachers can teach about the fundamentals of the U.S. economy before 1865. Idiots love to go out of their way to be offended.

I initially thought the entire “scandal” was just media masturbation: a trivial event and a trivial offense sparking trivial outrage and then trivial blow-back, and so on, with everyone losing sight of the utter triviality of the original event along the way.  Harrison Butker is a nobody, a fucking football player, of no particular consequence, and certainly of no importance to culture or intellectual life in the U.S.

His comments were not as anodyne as his defenders would have it, nor as caustic as his critics would have it. They are just unbelievably mediocre.  Seriously?  In this day and age?  Women should stay home and cook and clean and have babies?

He says:

On the day before Mother’s Day, he said, “I can tell you that my beautiful wife Isabelle would be the first to say that her life truly started when she began living her vocation as a wife and as a mother.

I can’t think of anything more deeply insulting to Isabelle.  You had no life before you met the wondrous Harrison Buttkiss?  You were not a whole person, because this amazing, virile, intelligent, paragon of testosterone had not yet laid you?

He went further, attacking diversity and inclusion in general, gay marriage, and so on– the usual litany of ignorant white male grievance.  He attacked abortion, which is odd because his party has left him in the dust on this issue.   Have you checked with Mike Pence lately?  And what other bedrock principles are you and your party eager to shed the moment they become politically inconvenient?

Shame on you Benedictine College!  Not because Butkisser gave you a mind-numbing divisive grievance-laced litany of intellectual dishonesty, but because you chose an athlete of mediocre intelligence to give your graduation address.  Someone who is famous for one-dimensionality, or achievements in the stupidest, dullest major sport in the world.  Please– the entire secular, consumerist, celebrity-addled world worships these masters of inanity.  Can’t a college — especially a Catholic Christian College– stand up and say, we will be different!  We will not kowtow to the worldly vice of idolization of professional athletes and materialistic success!  No, we will invite someone with real achievements in really important, consequential areas, like literature, journalism, painting, music, engineering, science, social services, or perhaps even ministry.

But then the administration of Benedictine College wouldn’t get to go home and tell their wives and mommies, “Guess I got to meet?” and really impress them.



Microsoft Will Fluff Your Pillows

Microsoft is offering it’s own version of AI. Probably the first sure sign that AI is never going to be anything really useful.

From Microsoft’s description, sounds like Google on amphetamines. It will probably take more work to keep it from going off in the wrong direction than it would be to just do the task yourself. And to get it to work correctly, you probably have to provide it with the same level of detail you’d have to provide if you were doing it all yourself. Then you’ll have to double-check the results to make sure it doesn’t go off and do something really crazy.

There will be a lot of “guardrails”, which tells you that it really isn’t “AI”; just algorithms on speed. It will solve problems that are easily solved without AI and fail the minute it is confronted with a real problem.

There is a SCTV sketch in which Dr. Tongue turns a bunch of stewardesses into his zombie-slaves. Turns out the zombies behave exactly like stewardesses: can I get you another coffee? Fluff up your pillow? Would you like a snack tray? Is your seat comfortable?

“Is there turbulence ahead?” Let me fluff up your pillow again.

Eventually Dr. Tongue wishes they would go away.

The Boys in George Clooney’s Bloat

A few months ago, I started seeing trailers for the new George Clooney movie, “The Boys in the Boat”.   I breezily scratched that film off my list.  Firstly, Clooney is a mediocre director, as evidenced from his previous films.  Secondly, a plucky band of American working-class men incredibly, stunningly, unbelievably, amazingly, shockingly enter an athletics competition and win.  My God!!! Has that ever even happened before?  Will the audience be surprised by anything in the film?  Will the best rower prove to be a nice guy, and get the girl?  Will some group of nefarious, jealous, evil people try to stop them?  Will there be a last-minute hitch to shockingly overcome?

As if.  As if anything about this film was ever going to be even remotely interesting.  Then, I accidentally stumbled into the review on the Roger Ebert review site.  Now, I know is overly generous to most films, but this review stunned me. I was completely wrong.  This magnificent film is fresh, exciting, rousing, and heroic!  You must see it!  3.5 out of 4 stars.

Seriously?  There is nothing in the description of this movie that even hints at a result like this.  The story is cliché-ridden, it’s directed by the “genius” who directed “The Monuments Men” (which Clooney himself apologized for) and “Leatherheads” which was reputedly so bad I never even bothered to see it, and it overtly toots the message of “believe in yourself” because if you believe in yourself you will win, even if all the other competitors also believe in themselves and win too.  We know for a fact that Nazi athletes do not believe in themselves, are not plucky, are never underdogs, and are known to deflower virgins.

No, I was not wrong.  Here’s a good corrective (the Guardian).

Will I see it?  I retch at the very prospect.  There is not one thing in the previews or reviews or trailer that displays the slightest hint of originality, insight, intelligence, or fun.

And should scrape itself off the list of “review” sites.  This is not the first time, recently, that it has been excessively generous to a bad film.  I know you want to be popular and you hate disparaging films that you know the public is going to love, but it is a disservice to culture in general to throw yourself at a film like a cheap slut late, late, late on a Saturday night.